by Cleo Jane
My attempts at forming a nightmare I had into a cohesive story.
Elizabeth tried not to sigh impatiently as she watched her maid finish the packing for her week trip. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the effort that Maggie was putting forth, but it was easier to turn her dark mood towards that than what she was really upset about. She still didn’t understand why she couldn’t just take her own maid with her. It was absolutely ridiculous but, her father had put his foot down for some reason. She supposed it wouldn’t be that big of a problem for only a week. Truthfully it wasn’t like Maggie really did very much for her anyways. Maggie was her most intimate friend though, and that part of their relationship would be hard to go without. This was especially true as she would have to deal with her sadistic brother and his absolutely absurd and disturbing behavior essentially alone. Her father reasoning for not taking Maggie was due to an accident as a very young child that had left her face disfigured, saying that other gently reared women not used to it would not be comfortable around her. Elizabeth knew that any truly properly reared female would look past the outside of anyone to the inside of them, but as she didn’t know who was going she couldn’t really effectively argue the point with her father. The excuse for Maggie not going was, on the surface, a decent one, but it was something that they had worked around before with veils or even just refusing to acknowledge that there was anything.
Elizabeth had also been told point blank that she could not back out of this trip like she had so many before though. It would be herself, her brother, his four closest friends- the sons of her father’s four closest friends- and then a random assortment of other young women of standing from around the area. Elizabeth dreaded spending time with her brother and his four friends, they had been raised together, and while the others were gentlemanly as far as she had ever seen, they also carried that faint feeling of predator that none of the men she had ever met outside of their five families had ever shown. She wasn’t quite sure if it was just a “higher quality of man trait”” like her father implied or just that the “higher quality of men” never had their cruel natures commented upon.
Being upset about the trip would not make it any better, though, and she would just have to get used to it. Hopefully the female companions that were going would be good company, although she thought, this time releasing the contained sigh, if they were good company and actual decent women than Maggie wouldn’t have bothered them and leaving her behind was pointless. Thinking about all of this was just making her even more unhappy though, so she shrugged trying to shrug off the thoughts that were plaguing her. Seeing that Maggie had long since finished packing and had already called the footmen up to deal with her luggage Elizabeth shook her head at her wool gathering and made one last glance around to make sure there wasn’t anything she might miss.
It was lucky that she did make the check, tucked neatly in a corner Maggie would never have checked was her diary. Her mother told her constantly it was childish of a young lady her age to keep a diary and that her attention should be turned to more useful pursuits. Her lady mother never stopped allowing her the funds to purchase new ones when she filled her latest one up though, so even though she would show her disapproval she truly didn’t mean it. Bemused with these thoughts she gathered up her diary and favorite quill pen, sure that there was ink up at the lodge. There had been the last time she had gone as a child, but that had been at least ten years previously. It was silly to think that they wouldn’t keep ink up there just because she hadn’t been there though, her brother wrote to them every time he went up. There was obviously ink up there and she knew it. She also knew that it was easier to worry about the ink supplies than it was to worry about the company she would be keeping and the fact that she would be so far away from both her mother and her dearest friend.
She had made it down the stairs by this time and her father frowned slightly as he turned and saw her.
“Elizabeth!” he thundered, “I was about to send your brother for you. You had better not be thinking about malingering through this trip as you have all the other ones that have been planned before!” His expression of anger and disapproval was almost so comical to her that she had to struggle to contain the laughter. She knew that that would have been an awful impulse to give in to though. Instead she smiled carefully up at him and shook her head
“No father, no malingering this time, Maggie has packed all of my things for me, I am ready to go and promise to not only go up there but socialize.” Her father seemed much mollified by this and reached out to pat her hair gently. He was a rough man but she did feel he truly loved her- at least most of the time.
“Good girl. Make sure to follow your brother’s advice in everything, he will be aware of certain dynamics that you may not be.” Deciding that her brothers advice was the last he would take in any possible circumstance even if it meant making a misstep socially, she again smiled gently at her father.
“Of course! It would be foolish of me to not accept counsel in a strange situation.”
Again satisfied with her answer her father took her mother’s arm and assisted her out to where the carriage was waiting for their children. Even though the accident that had taken her mothers foot had occurred before she had been born it still broke Elizabeth’s heart a little to see her hobble along with the aid of a cane and a shoe stuffed and attached to her stump of an ankle to save her from being mocked. In truth her mother never went out unless her husband insisted regardless of fear of mockery or not. It was too much pain for her even though the injury had healed many, many years ago. It was a sad story, her parents had been young and in love, and were about to have their second child. Then disaster struck. A poisonous snake had bitten her mother’s foot and the only way to save her life was to amputate her foot right at the ankle. That there were no doctors who could have treated her mothers foot galled Elizabeth almost as much as her fathers farce of making her wear the fake one if she was even going to go down for breakfast. This was another problem she could do nothing about though, and fretting would just make it worse for everyone. Putting on a smile for her father and mother she let the footman hand her up into the carriage.
On the way to the lodge they had one overnight stop to make. Her brother informed her that this would be where Paige, her maid for the week would be joining them. She acknowledged this slightly half heartedly and continued to stare out the window waiting for them to arrive. Her brother leaned forward and gripped her chin, turning her face towards him, as she was about to hit his hand away and protest angrily she saw the seriousness of his face.
“Elizabeth, there are going to be things going on this week that you won’t understand, but whatever else happens I need you to know that you can trust me to keep you safe and get you home.” Having said this he jumped out of the slowly moving carriage and climbed up onto his horse, which had been tethered and walking behind them since they had left the estate and their parents. Absolutely nothing else he could have said could have made her more terrified and sick to her stomach. The thought that there would be things up there so bad that she needed to count on her animal torturing, womanizing brother to protect her was one of the worst things she could imagine. She had been prepared to be bored, to be avoiding others as much as she could, to dislike her maid with a passion… but nothing could have prepared her for the feeling that his intense statement had given her. She began writing in her diary, documenting all of her misgivings. When they arrived at the inn she had worried herself almost sick and was jumpy of everything. As her brother assisted her down he saw her disturbed state and laughed,
“Oh come on, little sister!! You didn’t think I was serious did you?”
Staring up at him horrified, she realized it had all been a cruel prank designed to test her faith in him. He had done things like this to her her whole life and she still fell for them. What he did to those not in his family and without the protection of wealth was rumored at but no one had ever been able to prove it. She felt that his sick jokes were all she could handle and was extremely grateful he never dared to bring his more malicious tricks into their home. Her shock at his betrayal began to go away though and she grew angry. She knew that berating him would just make him laugh all the more. She settled on giving him a very affronted and haughty look and turning away, following her one night luggage bag carried by the porter into her room.
It was not much to look at, but her family always stopped at this inn. It was always clean and quiet and they never had to pay. Apparently the Lord Hammersly, her father, had some kind of deal with the innkeep. As she entered a room she saw a young woman unpacking her clothes for the evening and the next morning, hanging them carefully in the closet. Trying not to startle the girl she gave a soft knock at the door and spoke calmly, but with authority, the kind of voice she would never use on Maggie,
“Hello, you must be Paige, I am Miss Hammersly.”
Paige turned around still fluffing the wrinkles out of the dress she would be wearing for the last leg of the journey the next day and looked her up and down. Blushing slightly at the sauce of the young girl and wondering if she wasn’t trained very well she decided right then that she could either put up with a rude and more than likely disobedient servant all week or make an enemy of the girl. She decided on the latter,
“ I see that you have no prior training Paige. As embarrassing as it is for both of us I believe I will have to inform you of your duties for the week. To start with, when I talk to you, you will reply with the answer to my question, preferably a simple ‘Yes Miss Hammersly’’ or ‘No Miss Hammersly’. You will NOT make direct eye contact or any inappropriate eye contact at all. You have at least mastered the art of the clothing which is a much harder skill to obtain than simple behavior anyone in service should understand, so clearly you have the wits to handle it. Should you have any other troubles or questions about your duties or how you are to conduct yourself I will be glad to answer them. Should we have anymore incidences I will have to let you go and go without a maid for this week. I should warn you though I can guarantee you will not get work as a maid anywhere around here for a very long while should that happen though. Now any questions?”” Her tone had been crisp and commanding, not at all like the greeting she had entered with. It was a tone her father had unconsciously taught her over the years in his dealings with those who did not give him the respect he deemed due to his position. Elizabeth was not normally one to pull this kind of rank card but there was something about the girl that immediately set her on edge. Seeing the shock on the young plain girls face and noting that her mouth was hanging open in shock she spoke again “I guess that is a ‘No Miss Hammersly’” walking forward she patted the girl on the cheek, “Don’t worry dear we’ll work on it, you might want to shut your mouth though, you might catch flies.” Making sure that her diary was tucked into the waist sash of her dress securely – it wouldn’t do to leave THAT around with such a thing as this Paige girl looking after her- she swept serenely out of her room down to the private room that was always reserved for them when they came.
The room was always very comfortable. It was cool in the summer and warm in the winter for one thing, but also completely full of books and large pouffed chairs and couches. These were arranged close enough to talk if one wanted but far enough away that multiple people could sit and read and not have to interact with anyone else. This was one of her favorite rooms either at home, the lodge, or anywhere else. It was equipped to use as a study for the gentlemen so she could always find something to write with, and if she was all caught up on her diary she could still sit and read anything she wanted. Most of what she had read in here growing up was not “appropriate” for young ladies to read. Knowing this had spurred her to seek them out all the more though. Elizabeth had learned most of the things she knew about the world outside her father’s sphere of influence from these books.
She took the time she had for the afternoon to write in her diary about how her brother had been putting her on, about how the week was going to go, and how awful Paige was going to be. After that she went and grabbed a book she had gotten halfway through before but she couldn’t focus on it. She ended up just sitting there with the book in her lap until one of the maids on staff at the inn came to fetch her for the evening meal. Deciding that even though it wasn’t quite “proper” she wasn’t going to change for dinner when it was just a meal to sit through with her brother in a private dining room. Elizabeth trailed absently after the maid, her brow slightly furrowed as she continued to think deeply. She was extremely startled and slightly embarrassed to see what looked like the rest of the party they were supposed to be meeting up at the lodge all in the dining room laughing and talking together. The four young ladies in attendance seemed incredibly beautiful and elegant. Elizabeth was sure she didn’t recognize them from any previous function and wondered where they were from. More important than that though was that she was still in her traveling clothes and they were very clearly dressed for dinner in much less wrinkled and more suitable clothing. Thinking of her father Elizabeth tried to put into practice one of the bits of advice she had overheard him giving her brother before,
“My boy, no matter what situation you are in act like you are completely in charge and at ease. If there is something wrong in your manner or address your confidence will quickly assure them that it is not you, it’s them.”
Keeping these thoughts firmly in the front of her mind Elizabeth continued in like she was royal and all those within were mere peasants who just didn’t know it yet. She saw the room unconsciously squirm before her slight game of “I make my own rules because I can”, and almost sighed out loud in relief at the affect it had on those around her. Her brothers four friends were there as well as the four women she had been told would be there. As far as she could tell she was the youngest female there, the others looked to be in their mid-twenties and one looked like she might even be as old as thirty. None of the women looked familiar at all, not even like they might be older members of families that she knew. The oldest women put her on edge for some reason, though she was polite enough not to show it. There was a coarseness to her laughter and a knowingness in her glance that was just completely improper. Elizabeth obviously couldn’t be sure but she felt that the woman was still single. If she wasn’t her incredibly flirty behaviour was absolutely inappropriate. At what seemed to be an… advanced age being single and acting such a coquette seemed rather scandalous to Elizabeth. She was clearly making a go at being a spinster, but was still spending her time with men at least 5 years her junior if not more. It was not unheard of for a man of 30 to marry a woman as young as 18, but it was completely unheard of for the opposite to be true as far as Elizabeth knew. Perhaps her family was negotiating something with one of the other men’s families she thought. Whatever trade or land she brought might be worth having a much older and therefore undesirable woman as a relative to the family of whoever she had her eyes on. Although, she thought, if this was so then she would have already been married by now. Even ugly women could make a marriage for trade reasons at a young age. Lost for a bit in her rumination on what might make a woman unmarriageable, she almost didn’t notice that the next youngest woman had been trying to make her acquaintance. Turning scarlet at the thought of how rude the girl must think her she determined to not let her attention wander like that again.
“I’m very sorry, I didn’t quite catch that” The girl looked at her and her face fell a bit
“Oh, I was just saying my name is Grace Leverly, I was hoping you would sit with me, if you would rather not though that’s quite alright.” Grace seemed even more embarrassed by the fact that she had asked Elizabeth than Elizabeth was for completely ignoring her before. Aware of how she had presented herself and her interest level to the girl Elizabeth quickly tried to salvage the situation.
“I’m Elizabeth Hammersly, I’m terribly sorry, you caught me at just the wrong time. My mother says I am always woolgathering at the most inopportune moments. I would love to sit with you Grace.” Elizabeth took the risk of using the womans Christian name, hoping against hope that she would take it as a sign of apology and a desire to know her better rather than a sign of ill breeding. The appreciation in the small creature’s gray eyes at the attention was heart wrenching to Elizabeth. The girl was absolutely tiny, a full head shorter than Elizabeth who wasn’t very tall herself. The only thing that marked her as a woman grown were her full curves that no amount of shawl or poor fitting clothing could conceal. Her pale eyes were nervous and darted around as if she was expecting something to jump out at her. This attitude was also reflected in her cringing posture and extremely soft voice. All in all Elizabeth was very concerned for the poor anxious creature and wondered if there might be anything she could do to set her at ease. She followed Grace away from where the rest of the group was having wine and brandy at the small side bar before the actual meal began. Trying to think of something that might put the poor girl a little bit at ease Elizabeth cast around for some safe conversation topics.
“So where are you from Grace, I’m not sure I’ve heard your family name before.”
Grace looked up at her a little confused before she replied,
“My family lives in the town of Masterson, we’re actually spice merchants, but when the Lord Charles asks if you will go on a trip to a hunting lodge you say yes. I’m sure you haven’t heard my family name, we really don’t travel in the same social circles that you and your family do.”
A little embarrassed by this girl’s blunt honesty with her Elizabeth delved a little deeper.
“So you and your family always do what Lord Charles tells you to do? Surely you hardly ever get any work done that way?’
The girl tittered a bit at this and then looked around to see if anyone was close enough to hear them.
“Maybe it is different with Lord Hammersly but on the land Lord Charles owns his word is law and we all follow it.” Elizabeth was outraged for her very new friend at first until she realized that her father was very much like that as well. Of course those who were not in his direct family would feel the weight of his hand more than she did, but that didn’t mean that the weight wasn’t there. Proof of this was her being on this trip in the first place. Shrugging slightly in an unladylike manner Elizabeth tried to change the subject to something that might not embarrass Grace anymore she finally found one.
“So do you know any of the people here?”
Grace nodded, “I know the young lord Charles and his friends. There is Lord Edward, who you of course know better than I do as he is your brother.” a small titter escaped her here and Elizabeth smiled encouragingly. She knew all the young men but was curious to hear another’s views on them. “The eldest is Lord James Manesland, he has always seemed the kindest but most distant in my experience, definitely kinder than Lord Nathaniel Shirecroft… I’ve heard stories about him...” She trailed off a bit shuddering and Elizabeth understood why. She had also heard these stories, usually from her brother in an admiring tone of voice. Shaking off her sudden mood Grace continued “Last gentleman is Lord William Burry. I don’t really know much about him. That just leaves the women… Well the elder woma- I mean, that lady there is Lady Anne Gray, her husband was kil- passed away about a year ago. I hear she is close with the Lord Shirecroft.” With just that almost edited sentence Elizabeth understood all she had been questioning about the older woman. The Lady Gray’s familiarity with the young men was completely understandable now. She had never seen it herself but she had heard her mother and father discussing how widows of a certain age often decided that they should be able to have as much fun as they desired. While this thought was in some ways understandable it also did not say very much for the woman in question. The woman’s lavender colored bodice that was slightly lower cut than dinner with friends should warrant also made much more sense, as well as her artfully painted face with dark red lips prominent against artificially porcelain smooth skin. What had previously been confusion and questioning about her was now quickly turning to disdain mixed with a little bit of derision. The woman was clearly not worth wasting the time to attempt to socialize with, she would be upset about anything that might distract her from the gentlemen or vice versa. Grace continued on in regards to the other women in the company, “The tall willowy blonde is Theresa Lieland, her family controls the tobacco trade in Masterson, they are almost richer than the Lord Charles’ family and everyone knows it.” Elizabeth had to be careful in controlling her face with the last statement from Grace, it was the most character the poor plain girl had shown the entire time, her gray eyes almost lighting up for moment. This portrait of the girl being described was actually extremely accurate to how she carried herself. A general air of nose in the air mixed with a casual way of handling things as if she had never had to worry about paying for anything or not being able to pay for anything she broke. They were finally to the last girl’s background story from Grace. The young woman was the tallest female in the room and was easily as tall as some of the gentleman at least if not taller than some of them. For all of her height though she was not a manly or broad in the shoulders at all. She was extremely slim and dainty. Her long limbs giving her an unearthly type of grace. She was not as loquacious as the other women either, and was clearly not as eager to spend time with the men. More than likely she was like Grace and Elizabeth, forced into this. Grace had paused when it had been time to speak of this last one. “I don’t know anything about her. Not even her name… Very mysterious though isn’t she with all that dark hair and dark skin. Extremely exotic.” Elizabeth didn’t really think her skin was that dark at all, more of a light caramel than say a dark chocolate, but she nodded in agreement with her new friend unwilling to ruin her one chance at companionship for the week. The girl could certainly be described as exotic though, with her large chocolate eyes and thick black curly hair. She was easily the prettiest out of the young women there and Elizabeth didn’t mind admitting it. Grace seemed to be waiting for Elizabeth to participate on the conversation now so she cast around for something to say.
“It’s rather impressive that you know who all these people are. I would have had no idea who any of them are.” At this Grace blushed lightly and seemed pleased with herself.
“I just have a knack for faces, my mother says it will be the death of me yet too, sticking my nose in where it’s not wanted trying to learn more about people.”
Elizabeth was almost positive that this had probably gotten Grace in trouble before. There were many private people in the world, and ‘nosey’ was the most polite name that they would call a daughter of merchants who might know more than they wished her to. Luckily she was saved from a reply by dinner arriving. The dinner was fairly informal so they could sit where they liked, Elizabeth was surprised when the gentlemen waved off the footmen and seated the ladies themselves. The youngest in her brother’s group besides her brother was the one who pulled out her chair for and and he grinned charmingly at her as he did. He was surprisingly sweet and gentle without being overbearing. Elizabeth didn’t quite know what to do with herself. Her brother’s friends had never been anything but rude to her, either insulting her to her face or downright ignoring her. After a moment of thought though she thought she might remember that young man smiling at her before, and he had certainly never joined in the awful name calling the others had. Grace, who had managed to be seated next to Elizabeth by her brother of all people looked at her with a slightly awed and slightly queasy look on her face.
“It’s rare that Lord Charles shows such favoritism to anyone. I’ve heard rumors from those in town that it’s never good news for those who are on the receiving end.” Elizabeth was intrigued by what the woman meant with this pronouncement. Remembering what Grace had said about the senior Lord Charles earlier Elizabeth decided to take the girl’s report with a grain of salt. The Lord Charles and his family were always perfectly lovely whenever they came over to her family’s estate. They were always completely wonderful guests, funny, charismatic, and always bringing small gifts for the household. One thing that also had always endeared Lord Charles to Elizabeth was his unfailingly gentle treatment of her mother, very solicitous of her comfort and health, sometimes even to the point of not looking to his own spouse’s first. Lord Charles had been one of the men who had been with her mother when she had been bitten by the snake and she always wondered if he might not feel a little bit responsible for it. Pausing as Lord William was seating her, Theresa suddenly coughed in a way that Elizabeth found incredibly obnoxious. It seemed to be an attempt at a polite way to get other’s attention but it hit the ear like a cross between a fake sneeze and how the stable boys sounded when they were about to spit.
“Dear me,” she tittered “This can’t be right… For a proper meal we surely should be seated” again the attempt at a polite cough “Differently.”Wondering what on earth the silly creature was talking about Elizabeth looked around the table. Everyone had frozen for a moment, the tall exotic woman actually half sitting down with Lord James halfway through with pushing her chair in. It was Edward who finally broke the confused silence, “I’m sorry Miss Lieland, but I’m going to have to ask that you be slightly clearer in your meaning.” His tone was polite, and even gentle. It could easily have been mistaken for actually gentle, but Elizabeth knew her brother well. She resisted the urge to shudder openly. This tone was the one that was a sign that he was about to show his temper. In her entire life Elizabeth had never seen it end without at least one person being physically harmed. Miss Lieland was oblivious however, mistaking the fake manners fro true attention. She blushed artfully and again coughed. Elizabeth decided that for the cough alone the stupid woman might deserve whatever was coming to her. “Well I hate to be so blunt, but surely we would rather observe the niceties and have a TRADITIONAL setting of well” again the blush and the horrid cough “mixed genders.” Her tone at this last was as if she was pronouncing some incredibly risque subject for the company to discuss. Elizabeth was even more confused for a moment until she realized that it was in fact considered proper to be seated in a male-female-male-female fashion. Her family had never observed this custom so it hadn’t occurred to her. Edward smiled tightly and spoke again, this time his tone cold and commanding “Miss Lieland. This is an informal dinner between friends. I’m sure that for this one night you will allow us to dispense with the niceties.” His words were polite but his eyes conveyed the foolishness of pursuing the matter. Miss Lieland was clearly not used to being addressed in such a way and actually seemed scared for a moment. The color drained from her face, which made her almost startlingly pale with her almost white gold hair. She sat down with an audible thump and the activity from the rest of the room continued.
Elizabeth decided that the company was perhaps not the best she could have hoped for but truthfully it was better than she was used to for dinner here, and the food was as wonderful as always. Tonight it was a warm thick beef and vegetable stew with a fluffy white bread that had a flaky brown crust on it. Their father always complained about how simple the food was here but Elizabeth and her mother had giggled in private more than once about how he always complained but his plates never had anything left on them by the end of the meal. She and Grace talked quietly between themselves the entire meal, none of the others seeming particularly interested in starting conversations with either of them and they didn’t particularly mind. It was all silly little things such as the weather, their fathers’ business ventures (or what little they know of them), and the direction the styles of dresses seemed to be going. For her part Elizabeth was perfectly content to have a conversational partner who didn’t seem to want any higher level of conversation that she might actually have to pay some attention to. Grace on the other hand seemed over the moon to have someone who would actually talk to her throughout the meal and not find the first excuse out of the conversation. The tall slender woman they had been talking about before was at the other end of the table from them so they could find no excuse to talk to her or even to learn her name. Elizabeth was slightly disappointed but not unduly so. These things happened in time and she would have all week to get to know the other women on the trip- possibly more than she wanted to.
As the meal ended she was considering feigning a headache so she might go to her room to be away from the noise and people but her brothers warning glance held her back. He was wise to her tricks, and a headache after dinner was one of her favorite ways to get out of socializing with people. Mentally grumbling, she allowed Grace to link arms with her and tow her to goodness knows where along with the rest of the group. They ended up outside in the garden attached to the inn, casually separating into groups of two and three and just wandering about getting to know each other better while enjoying the cool breeze. Elizabeth stayed with Grace, or rather, Grace clung tighter and tighter to Elizabeth’s arm if anyone got close to them as if terrified they might take her new friend away. Slightly amused by her companion’s ferocity Elizabeth guided them down a lane that would offer less chance of distraction from the others and began conversing with the young woman, hoping to put her at ease again.
“This really is a varied group isn’t it? I mean the boys are not surprising- they are hardly ever out of each others sight, but the ladies of the group? It really is quite jumbled.” Grace seemed a bit confused at first and then giggled a bit,
“Oh no, truly you are the odd one out in the group.” Elizabeth wondered at that and didn’t quite know if she should be offended or not. Feeling the sudden stiffness in her arm Grace hurried to continue “Not in any bad way of course, we welcome your company, but the rest of the girls and I are all from families that do business regularly with the Lords. Except perhaps that dark mysterious one.” This last bit was said in such an accusing tone of voice the Elizabeth couldn’t help it this time, she laughed out loud. Grace was just too much, her curiosity of the young woman had clearly turned to distrust. Rather than explain that she was amused by Grace’s mercurial mood shift about the girl Elizabeth changed the subject.
“If your family does business with the Lords often have you met my father?”
Grace turned a bit red at this question.
“I’m really not allowed to be involved with the business side of any of that, my father forbids it. I have seen Lord Charles but my father and brothers deal with the rest of the Lords who come to visit. I did see one of the other Lords once, but I’’m not sure who it was, he just happened to be with Lord Charles at the time. The younger lords I see quite often, as you say they are always together so everyone sees them out and about gallivanting and adventuring.” The rapidity of Grace’s explanation and the continuing redness of her face told Elizabeth that while the merchants daughter wasn’t ‘allowed’ to see the other Lords, she certainly had, and more than once. Unwilling to make her new friend more uncomfortable Elizabeth wondered what else they might talk about. Seeing a nearby flower bed she turned towards it and started talking to the girl about flowers. Grace was surprisingly knowledgeable about the different kinds of flowers and whether they grew from seeds or bulbs and how much they might cost to grow (Elizabeth was shocked to find out how expensive the tiny little flower patch was) and whether they might come back each year or if they had to be replanted.
“How do you know so much about flowers?” The shock evident in her voice it was Grace’s turn to laugh.
“My family are spice merchants for the most part but we dabble a bit in the occasional flower, and as the boys don’t want to have to deal with talking to the agents the suppliers send my father has appointed me the official ‘flower merchant’ for our enterprises.” Pride warmed her tone as Grace said this and Elizabeth could tell that this office was very important to her.
“I don’t believe my father would ever trust me with anything important, much less something as important as where money is coming from, that is impressive.” Pleased with this praise Grace turned rather red again and turned back to the flowers demurring softly. The evening was progressing though and Elizabeth suggested they head back to the inn before it got dark. Grace readily agreed and they were off. Right before they got to the edge of the garden the young Lord Charles happened upon them. He was easily the nicest of the five young men and Elizabeth liked him much more than her brother in truth, though she would of course never be so improper as to say that aloud.
“Hello ladies! I had rather thought that I was alone out here, I haven’t seen anyone else in ages, have you enjoyed your turn about in the garden?” Grace answered readily that they had and her ease with the young man startled Elizabeth a bit. For someone who wasn’t supposed to deal with the lords Grace seemed completely comfortable in his presence. She wondered how Grace thought that Charles kind treatment of her was different enough from his treatment of her own self at dinner that she wasn’t unnerved by it. Perhaps the young man came and bought flowers from her. Elizabeth wished Lord Charles a good night and she and Grace continued on to the inn. Grace chattered away about her home and the people she knew and things her siblings had done, clearly having decided that she and Elizabeth were fast friends and that this was just natural. Thinking about her own childhood and the things her brother had done and how she really didn’t have any friends made Elizabeth sad for a little bit, but then she felt silly at the woeful turn her thoughts were taking. She had chosen her mother as a companion instead of the young women she might have been friends with. There were other ladies in the families, true slightly younger than her, but still the sisters of her brother’s friends. They could have been as close as the young men were, and Elizabeth wasn’t entirely positive, but she thought that the other four were… She had always refused their invites though and when her father had forced her to socialize she had always stayed close to her mother and or hardly talked to the point of rudeness. She had chosen her isolation and wouldn’t have it any other way. Bidding Grace good night and promising she would sit beside her in the morning at breakfast Elizabeth climbed the stairs to her room lost in thought as she was almost all of the time. Upon entering her room she saw her sleeping clothes had been laid out and the clothes for the next day had been pressed and laid out as well. Sighing she decided she had probably been too hard on poor Paige and decided that, no matter the sass, she would treat the girl better. Clearly she knew her job well, just not when to shut her mouth. The bell pull was next to her bed and Elizabeth knew she could call Paige up now to help her off with her bodice and day clothes but truthfully she felt no desire. It was much more comfortable to be on her own. Her mother had gotten her modified clothes long ago that enabled her to undress herself at her own insistence. It felt absolutely ridiculous to have Maggie undress her, as close as they were. It had taken years for Maggie to adjust, but eventually she had. Paige probably wouldn’t mind having less work she thought to herself. It had been a long day. Long enough that she felt perfectly alright making a third diary entry for the day. At last she finished with her writing and put her diary away in a safe hiding place and went to sleep. It had been a very long day and she fell asleep very quickly. When she woke up in the morning Paige was just opening the door. Seeing her eyes open she looked at her warily as if expecting to be berated again.
“Miss Elizabeth, they will be serving breakfast soon, would you like any assistance with your clothes this morning?”
Wondering if she had put a real scare in the girl Elizabeth felt slightly shamed.
“If you wouldn’t mind that would be lovely please. How was your evening, Paige?”
Upon receiving the look that she was now being given she almost wished she had continued being strict with the girl. She was just so used to her Maggie. Elizabeth could talk to Maggie about anything and everything. Sighing again she threw the covers back and stood up so that Paige could assist her with getting ready for the day. A short while later she was heading down to the dining room. Her corset a bit tighter than she normally would have been comfortable with, but that was what happened when you had help who wasn’t accustomed to you and that wouldn’t listen to what you were saying. A whole week with Paige was going to be an education in how a lady holds her tongue she thought to herself. Stepping into the dining room Grace immediately attached herself to her arm. She also realized that she was going to have to deal with Grace stuck to her like glue the entire time that they were up in the mountains. It could be worse though, if she was going to be stuck with Paige at least Grace would be a friendly face for her to be around. As soon as she had linked arms with her Grace had started talking excitedly at her. The stream of words was mostly in regard to those who were part of their party. Apparently the Lady Gray had been seen going back to her room very late and very very drunk. She had also been very almost undressed as well. The upshot of this was that no one knew who she had been with for sure because all of the young men in the group had been out even later than her. Though they had been out even later none of them had been drunk when they got in, so it was unlikely she had been with one of them. It was all very mysterious. Even more mysterious apparently by Grace’s estimation was that the tall exotic woman didn’t have a maid and that there was no way anyone could have known when she came in or not. Elizabeth had to try really hard not to roll eyes at this last bit of ridiculousness. Truthfully all of the fuss over not having a maid was ridiculous. Grace was waiting expectantly for Elizabeth to respond to this last bit of salaciousness and Elizabeth was at least half tempted to tell her that she had gotten herself ready for bed and wasn’t sure when her own maid had come in the night before. She decided against that though and just went with as little interest as she could without seeming to be rude. Truthfully she could care less if the slightly ridiculous Lady Gray had ten men in her bed and fifty witnesses and they all drowned in wine. Grace seemed satisfied with her answer though and continued on about people that Elizabeth didn’t know and didn’t really care to know about but it was easier to listen than try to come up with something that might side track her. She was finally saved by the beginning of breakfast though, where constant gossip was not the most political way to go about things. This time everyone was introduced to her and their exotic addition as well. They were apparently the only two strangers to the group, the others had been on trips like this before at various points in time. Grace’s information proved correct in regards to the rest of the party, she had known the four lords since she was very little, and Miss Lieland and Lady Grey were condescending in their address of Elizabeth. While this would have upset many women, it mostly made Elizabeth laugh. She couldn’t help it; the ridiculousness of a group of women with not even half of the social standing she could have all looking down on her for not being part of their regular crowd was just too funny for words. The newcomer though proved to be from Spain. She spoke very soft and accented English in a lilting almost hypnotic voice. Her name was Rosalina de la Vientez and her family was a very old and influential part of the Spanish aristocracy. The seating had been changed from dinner and Grace and Elizabeth had found themselves directly across from Rosalina. Having another person who might not be safe thrown into the pot Grace turned back into her plain and mousish self, barely even talking to Elizabeth who was next to her and refusing to make eye contact with anyone, even the help that was serving her food. Knowing that the only way to get Grace over this was to prove that the Lady de la Vientez was safe Elizabeth steeled herself and made the first overture of friendship across the table.
“Rosalina is a very pretty name, is it a family name?” she inquired of the woman who had been sitting quietly looking at her plate. Looking up in surprise at being addressed Rosalina smiled and looked even more beautiful than she had before,
“Yes it was my grandmother’s name, it means ‘little rose’. Clearly my family thought I would be shorter,” she laughed a deep and attractive laugh. “There have been many women in my line that have been named this. What about Elizabeth?”
Delighted to know that she might be able to have more than one friend, and at least one friend not inclined to such abrupt personality shifts as Grace, Elizabeth answered her,
“No, Elizabeth isn’t a family name, my mother just loved the sound of it; I believe it might have been the name of one of her childhood friends.”
The conversation continued casually and steadily. It finally got to the point that Grace opened up enough to join it. By the time breakfast was over Grace was still wary of the tall woman, but not quite as deeply mistrustful. The party slowly drifted into the main entrance of the inn discussing travel plans for the day. Elizabeth’s brother Edward beckoned her over. Slightly worried about what he might want she walked over, trying not to frown.
Seeing her struggle to control her expression he rolled his eyes slightly “Stop with the face, you might actually be happy about this. Do you want to ride up to the lodge with the Spaniard and the merchant girl you’ve been talking to? Father will be pleased when I tell him you have actually been socializing this outing.” Here he paused, looking at her expectantly. Understanding what he must want she nodded excitedly “Yes! That would be wonderful brother!”… Realizing how her eagerness must seem she quickly back tracked, “I mean that is of course if they were amenable as well that would be most pleasant.” Laughing slightly while she turned red he turned to the others in the group ““Alright everyone, how do we feel about shuffling the deck a bit and changing travel partners?” After the general consensus was reached Edward left to go inform the drivers. The others sorted themselves into new parties. Unsurprisingly the boys grouped up first, and then the servants. The five girls stood a bit awkwardly for a moment, Grace gravitating slowly but surely closer to Elizabeth until they could lace arms together. In a statelier manner, Rosalina also moved a bit closer to the two girls as well. The Lady Anne snorted in what Elizabeth felt was an incredibly unladylike manner, and moved off towards the group of young men. Feeling that her instincts about the woman were right, Elizabeth felt the only thing she could do as a woman of any sort of good breeding was to ask Theresa to join them. Returning from outside Edward looked at them all and laughed, “Alright everyone, we have 4 carriages and only three groups… three very large groups… Let’s see… gentleman? We see each other all the time, I think we could stand to separate out a little more?” While the others were grumbling, the young Lord Charles started walking over towards the group of ladies. Seeing this Edward clapped his hands together, ““Good man Charles! Alright let’s see what else we can sort out!”
In the end the parties were Charles, Elizabeth, Grace, and Rosalina in one carriage. Theresa Lieland, her maid, and James. Edward, Nathaniel, and William. The final carriage held Lady Anne and the rest of the servants. When told she couldn’t have all of the men alone to herself unsupervised she had pouted in a manner that was decidedly inappropriate to her age and declared that she was tired and would need to rest through the trip. As they all piled into their carriage, Grace suggested a traveling game of What do you see? Charles quickly seconded this and the two leapt into the game with vigor. Rosaline and Elizabeth could hardly keep up, but they had a very enjoyable trip the rest of the way to the cabin. It was easily the most enjoyable one that Elizabeth had ever experienced.
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